We were a group of three guys studying about cross cultural studies in an American university. Part of our study was to observe life on a cultural minority. It was a test of our being open minded and flexibility to adjust to our new environment. It was an eye opening experience and made me appreciate what I enjoy back home. Bhutan has so many restrictions, but I was able to adapt to their ways of life.
We braved a two day flight to get to our destination, first we travel via India in New Delhi, and from there we boarded a Druk Air flight to get to Paro Airport, in Bhutan. After processing our visas at the immigration office, we then contact our local tour operator and guide which will accompany us during our seven day tour to the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”. Our guide fetches us and he drove for an hour to get us to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. He took us to the Dochula Pass; it is a complex of one hundred and eight stupas dedicated to the Bhutan soldiers who were killed during the fight with Indian rebels in 2003.We took a two hour hike to get to this site. From afar I can see the picturesque view of the snow capped Himalayan Mountains. Next we checked out the Thimpu Dzong/Tashichhodzong, this authentic fortress of architecture houses the local government, and clerical offices. It is within walking distance from the Norzin Lam and stands along the sides of Wang Chu RIver. Nice photo opportunities, but in Bhutan they do not allow taking pictures inside temples, only the outside.
Across from here we visited the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, an art school and museum with a variety of activities to do. Painting classes were offered from introductory to advanced level. I joined a group of guys drawing religious images and icons. From here we visited a small museum called the Royal Textile Academy (National Textile Museum), where we watch women weaving traditional costumes. I bought embroidered textiles for mom in their craft shop. Before we head back to our hotel we passed by the Buddha Point, which can be seen from every point of the city. We took photographs of the sunset and this magnificent monument. From the top we had a great view of the whole town and the Thimphu valley.
The next day we head out to visit other attractions, along the way I saw traditional farmhouses clinging to the mountain side above irrigated terraced fields. My guide said such communities are often isolated because they are cut off from civilization by the steep mountains. When we get to the capital we saw young monks watching the Tsetchu Festival. It was being held in honor of a Tibetan saint. It was spectacular and colorful. Afterwards, we head to the Jigme Dorji National Park, a bird watcher’s haven. We saw all kinds of birds and lots of trees. It is also home for the takin (goat/antelope) the national animal of Bhutan. From here we passed by the Bhutan Post Office Headquarters, we took pictures outside and when we handed it to them they made personalized stamps with our faces on it. I bought stamps and sent postcards to mom and all my friends. After our postage fun we head off to the Trashi Chloe Dzong, it’s a huge structure along the river with a large courtyard, temple and the king’s quarters.
After a three hour hike we reached the Phajoding Monastery, here we got a close observation on a Buddhist way of life. Inside the monastery we found a small farm where they grow crops such as potatoes, citrus, fruits, barley, and wheat. They load their produce aboard long-haired oxen called yaks which helps them bring it to the market. We also checked out their kitchen and watch how they prepare their food, simple and very basic. What amuses me most is how happy their dispositions are, they always smile then giggle they seem to be a bunch of happy people. Despite the fact that they have so many works inside the monastery, they have this aura of joy and vivacity. Kind and happy, I love that about them.
Later that day we visited the Thimphu Chorten (Memorial Chorten). We took turns in pulling the ropes at the giant prayer wheels inside this memorial. There is a small garden nearby and lots of people walking around offering prayers at the Chorten. We climbed all the way to the large stupa and admire the wonderful views at the top. It was so spiritual watching how Bhutanese Buddhists pray and chant. Then we visited the Motithang Takin Preserve, a small zoo where takins and other deer’s are taken care of. We enticed him with some grass and he enjoyed getting up close to us, it was fun getting to know this interesting creature. I took photographs of them and the rest of the animals at the mini zoo.
The next day our guide drove for an hour to take us to the Bumthang District. We toured around the Kurje Lhakhang, a beautiful and quiet temple with three stupas dedicated to the first three kings of Bhutan. Their respective tombs can also be found inside this temple. I admire the serene ambience while we explore and look at the beautiful statues. From here we passed by the Tamshing Monastery. Thereafter we took a short hike to get to the Burning Lake; it is a significant and religious site. The water looks like hot oil and surrounded by prayer flags and mini stupas. It looked so peaceful and lovely.
We spent our sixth day touring the Paro District. First we took the exhilarating traverse to get to the Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest). Then we rode a horse up to the point they are allowed. We were rewarded with awe inspiring views of the sceneries around the monastery. After this we visited the 17th century fortress called the Pazo Dzong. I admired its unique architecture and the view of the entire Paro on top. We took photographs beside their new Thongka (tapestry).
We then head off to the Kichu Lakhang; it is one of the ancient and holiest temples in Bhutan. It is said that the two orange trees inside its courtyard bears fruits all throughout the year. The frescoes were magnificent and evoke a divine feeling while inside one of its Dzongs. It was teeming with locals when we were there; most of them were Bhutanese families. By noon we visited the Chele La Pass, it is a bird watchers haven with winding roads to get to its summit peak. It is one of the highest points in Bhutan. Once we reach the top we had an amazing view of the Himalayan Mountains and its countryside. It took the rest of the afternoon to explore this attraction. We settle for a good picnic on its ground before heading back to our hotel.
On our last day, we visited the Drukgyel Dzong (Victory Fort), though it is now in ruins it was still worth a visit. We walk up the hill and took beautiful photographs of the Paro Valley. From the top we saw Bhutanese farmers herding yaks while they graze on its lush green fields. Afterwards we head to the National Museum; this museum gave detailed information about Bhutan and its political history. I marveled at the ancient artifacts displayed in its different sections. My favorite was the paintings about Hindu Gods and Goddesses. A variety of dance masks were also proudly displayed on its walls. Bhutan has many spectacular religious festivals and dances. We bought souvenirs, belts and scarves at the Chencho Handicrafts before heading to the airport to catch our flight back to New York that evening.
It was an awesome adventure and if you ask me what makes Bhutan worth coming back for aside from its being so rich in spiritual culture is its people. Their sunny smiles and positive attitude even in the face of hardship is worth emulating.